Deadly 'superbug' fungus hits U.S. hospitals

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health agencies are closely monitoring a dangerous fungus called Candida auris. (CDC)

Public health officials are warning hospitals that a drug-resistant fungus is circulating in the United States and has hit several New York and New Jersey hospitals. 

Candida auris is a dangerous form of yeast, and is resistant to two of three main antifungal drugs; some strains are resistant to all three. 

“It’s acting like a superbug,” Paige Armstrong, M.D., an epidemic intelligence service officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Associated Press. 

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A total of 61 cases of the fungus have been reported in the U.S. since 2013, according to the CDC, but the vast majority were identified over the last year. Seventeen patients in New York have died, but they suffered from comorbidities, so the fungus may have not been the cause of death, the AP reported.

The fungus has also infected 15 people in New Jersey, four in Illinois and one in Maryland, Indiana and Massachusetts, the CDC reports.

The CDC has also found that the fungus can persist on surfaces and is easily spread between patients in healthcare facilities, unlike most other Candida fungus species. It can also be tough to identify in laboratories that don’t have the proper equipment. The CDC has updated its guidelines on the fungus to reflect these findings, and recommends that hospitals keep infection patients isolated and clean rooms they occupied with cleansers that can kill the superbug Clostridium difficile.

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Anne Schuchat, M.D., acting director of the CDC, told STAT that the fungus poses a “catastrophic threat” to public health. Public health officials and providers both need to put more of a spotlight on infection control, she said.

“This is a big threat and a wake-up call,” she said. “It was a problem for Ebola. It was a problem for SARS. It’s a problem for drug resistance.”